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Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music - The Definitive Life

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  419 ratings  ·  65 reviews
In his commanding new book, the eminent NPR critic Tim Riley takes us on the remarkable journey that brought a Liverpool art student from a disastrous childhood to the highest realms of fame.

Riley portrays Lennon's rise from Hamburg's red light district to Britain's Royal Variety Show; from the charmed naivetéf "Love Me Do" to the soaring ambivalence of "Don't Let Me Dow
Hardcover, 765 pages
Published September 20th 2011 by Hachette Books (first published December 1st 2010)
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Oct 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing

About as solid a bio as I can imagine. Lennon was a weird guy, and after reading a bit about his upbringing it's not hard to see why.

I'd like to know more about Yoko Ono's heroin habit.

Very strong on the early Beatles in Germany.

Out of curiosity, and inspired by the account in the book, I found a YouTube clip of John and Yoko playing with Chuck Berry on the Mike Douglas Show ca. 1072. There's a highly comical moment when Yoko starts her patented caterwauling during the break on "Memphis." The l
Lakis Fourouklas
Sep 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
John Lennon has always been one of my favorite musicians. I’ve been listening to his songs since I remember myself listening to music and I’ve always thought him to be a man who during his life, apart from his art, did nothing more than keep searching to find a destination, where he really wanted to be. Whether what he really wanted to do was change the world through his music, become the main spokesperson for the peace movement or just a stay at home dad, I could not really say; not until now.
Brent Wilson
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pop-culture
I was so moved by his difficult life-

I kept talking to people about it, who have no interest at all. Embarrassing at times.

And he was such a broken, all-too-human being. I'm glad he found some kind of peace in a second family with Yoko and Sean. I can understand why he clung to that family and made things work. He had never had people stay with him and give him security.

I was gratified to learn more of Cynthia Lennon, his first wife. She sounds amazing in her own way - so liberal in her sympathi
Jun 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Riley breaks from a lot of the traditional lore about Lennon and judges everything for himself. I didn't always agree, but he made me question some of my assumptions. Lennon comes across in this book as very complex, with many demons and also a sincere drive to better himself. One really funny scene: an LSD-wired Lennon calls a Beatles meeting to announce that he is the resurrected Jesus Christ. The rest of the band kind of nods and lets it go. He never brings it up again. Riley also has indepen ...more
Jan 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography-memoir
Riley's biography of John Lennon is very detailed and comprehensive. I've read several other books on Lennon and the Beatles, yet I learned a great deal from Riley's meticulous work. He presents a clear and honest portrait of Lennon's strengths and weaknesses, but he never stoops to the "gossipy" tone found in so many other books about rock stars. The book mixes biography and music criticism, which is natural given Riley's background as a musician and scholar. I can see how some readers might fi ...more
Fred Garnett
Jul 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Terrific book by the music journalist Tim Riley on Lennon. Particularly good on Beatles music, as you'd expect from the author of Tell Me Why and insightful in the manner of Kenneth Womack (Please Please Me sounded less like a follow up to Love Me Do that a career fuse being lit). Unlike Philip Norman he didnt have Yoko's backing and so is free to focus on what he wishes to, which is Lennon's music- making. Having read Norman's book on Lennon I didnt think there could be a more thorough work on ...more
Dave Schwensen
Jul 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has a lot of information. It also carries a little too much of the author’s personal critique and dissection about Lennon’s music and what was going on in his head while writing the songs the songs. I had a difficult time dealing with that since I doubt even Yoko Ono knew everything that was going on in his head.

I really debated giving this book four or five stars. It deserves both, so I’ll actually give it four and a half. The research the author did in putting together this massive n
Mar 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
this was a real let down i wanted JOHN, but you had to search thru all this other stuff to get the John info. also i didnt like they way he kept referring to him as 'Lennon'. ok yeah i know thats his name but it was like he was a 'thing' like a cultural item, not a person. Philip Norman's john lennon the life is far better. although i did agree with some stuff - he says everyone ragged on yoko until paul married heather -then paul copped it. this is true. heather/paul was a car crash. also he me ...more
Feb 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It takes perseverance to get through a 700+-page nonfiction book, but this one is worth it, at least for fans of John Lennon's music. Riley’s book is loaded with information, not just about Lennon and the other Beatles but about the times he lived in and the places where he lived. He gives a whole history of rock ‘n roll, linking Lennon’s work back to the musicians who inspired it and ahead to the ones who followed. He offers details behind every song and every album, how it was written, how it ...more
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Having read many other books about John, I thought that I would just leaf through this one but now I think that this might be the definitive biography with its precise examination of his formative traumas.
Dec 07, 2011 rated it it was ok
I couldn't read this all the way through. It was well researched but also included critical notes on each album starting with the Beatles. Too detailed for me.
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Excellent all encompassing biography of the musical legend John Lennon. A very enjoying read.
Brooke Hundley
Jul 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a very amazing book! It has just about every detail of John's life and is extremely long but if you're a huge Lennon fan like me, you'll really enjoy it and I would really suggest reading it.
Lee Richardson
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A long, long book on John Lenonn's life. I picked the book up from one of those neighborhood boxes. It's been sitting on my bookshelf for awhile, and I've always wanted to read it.

I was interested in Lennon, for starters, because my dad is a huge Beatles fan, and I wanted to understand why Lennon and the Beatles were so appealing. The other reason is that I hear references to John Lennon in so many other places, and he seemed like a one-of-a-kind personality, so it would be great to learn his fu
Patrick Doyle
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
There are many books about legendary rock musicians. There are many about John Lennon. Tim Riley's is arguably one of the better ones. He does write as if all readers can understand oblique and cryptic prose, but that slight criticism aside, Riley presents a compelling case to see John Lennon as a product of his life and times as much as a self made legend. Having read Ray Connolly's more straightforward account (Being John Lennon, 2018), alongside Riley's, I felt Tim Riley analysed events a lit ...more
Sharon Falduto
Oct 20, 2019 rated it liked it
A massive biography of the Beatle. Well researched*, in depth, lots of source material such as Cynthia Lennon's biographies. A lot of detail. John was a challenging guy. Smart, mouthy, dangerous when drunk, mean to women, ignored Julian, was all earth-father to Sean, got shot way too young. Quite a story, starting with a lot of abandonment by death. Which leads one to wonder, do we have the Beatles if John's uncle/mother/best friend didn't all die suddenly and young? There's a lot of pain there. ...more
Matt Isenhower
Jan 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Well, not quite definitive. Philip Norman's 2008 John Lennon: The Life still holds that rank. I suppose new biographies of fascinating people will always be produced, but we're dealing with some well-trodden ground here. Several major "event" bios of Lennon are out there, beginning with Ray Coleman's somewhat hodge-podge and unfocused Lennon, a hero-worshipping whitewash released at the height of John's martyrdom in 1984. This was followed in 1988 by the opposite extreme, the widely despised The ...more
Jun 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have always been a fan of The Beatles, but I never got into much biographical info about the band until last year, when I watched the Scorsese film about George Harrison. This book had me adoring John part of the time and hating his guts the rest of the time. He seems like a pretty complex personality, so maybe that is only fitting.

First the adoration. John was obviously an amazing artist. I enjoyed learning about the beginnings of the band, how their image was re-worked to sell records (ditch
May 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographies, beatles
First off; good book. I enjoyed it.

Next, if you're thinking of picking this one up and hoping for another tale of Lennon Hero Worship... forget it. While Riley is definitely a fan and has admiration for Lennon, he does not grovel at Lennon's altar.

The book spends a considerable number of pages in Hamburg, which I was delighted to read. But it also provides some details on Lennon's life prior to The Beatles taking off, examining the differences between his real mother, Julia and his Aunt Mimi, wh
Jan 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
tim riley is very good at anaylizing songs and how they`re put together which i love about this book. the short comming of this book to me is the writing will be going along in a very good flow and then a wrench seems to be thrown in because of language use loses it rythmn and tries to get overally intellectualized. John lennon`s story is so intriguing and then ends so tragically just as he appeared to be getting his life together. As a by product of the details in his life you learn much about ...more
Oct 17, 2015 rated it liked it
There has been so much written on the life of John Lennon and I finally got around to reading one of them. Tim Riley seemed to put together a pretty good portrait of the man and his remarkable life. There is no doubt Lennon was a creative genius and along with that came the baggage of the genius\artist. No doubt most of his personal struggles in life came from his strange rearing and experiences. He gave us much to ponder and question in life and like a lot of people wrestled with the demons tha ...more
Jan 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Ken McCarson
Recommended to Brent by: J. M. DeMatteis
I really enjoy Riley's musical analysis, as in his earlier, 1980s Beatles criticism in Tell Me Why. Tim Riley It's especially interesting to compare with Philip Norman's Lennon biography from three years ago. They cover the same ground with differing emphases. Norman tells the story with admirable attention to the incidents at the roots of Beatles songs, yet includes no source notes, only citation within the narrative. Riley cites Norman and other writers where appropriate, cuts McCartney's sent ...more
Tony Nielsen
Dec 31, 2011 rated it liked it
It hurts a bit to realise that John Lennon was quite often an asshole, but I already knew that. This really is an excellent biography actually, especially for a Beatles nut like myself. Even though it doesn't bring a lot more to the table than Phillip Norman's treatise of a few years ago.
To counter the criticism of some of his less desirable traits this book does lay the foundation of exploring his own dysfunctional family and fraught relationship especially with his mother Julia. Other than tha
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
I was disappointed and frankly surprised that so many rate this book highly. There are numerous errors that are repeated several times (identifying Badfinger as a Scottish group indicates poor editing or lazy scholarship.) In addition, there is some bizarre analysis and tenuous subjective commentary; Reilly must be the only Beatle fan in the world to rate Paul's 'That Means A Lot' as a lost Beatles classic. If you're after a Lennon biography the Philip Norman book is much better; it is better wr ...more
Jul 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Merja Pohjola
Jul 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Very thorough, quite fair IMO both in good and in bad; shows Lennon was a human being with his strengths and weaknesses, and so was Yoko, Paul, etc... Doesn't take sides, but introduces different theories and let's the reader make up their own mind, which is rare in biographies. Usually the author just chooses one theory and goes with that. This is how I would like all bios to be written. Professionally, avoid of stupid gossip (leaves out the most outrageous stories I have heard and that have no ...more
Sam Motes
Feb 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a brutal honest look at the life and times of Lennon. It covers all the impact he had on the music industry and touched fans via the Beatles and in his solo career and a very deep level. The stories behind the relationships of the band members and the amazing body of work they built together and as individuals was enlightening. His legal and political battles are covered as well. At times I found myself loving Lennon for his passion in the music and stances on political issues and others ...more
Marjorie Kehe
Aug 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Tim Riley has read absolutely everything that there is to read about John Lennon – and talked to as many sources as he could – and has done so very thoughtfully. The result is a very balanced biography that manages to be fair to all the players involved – John himself, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Cynthia Lennon, etc. The book is long and thorough so it's not for those looking for a quick hit. But if you'd like a realistic, balanced account of the life of a superstar who is some ways will always re ...more
J. Walker
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Beatles fans, pop culture fans, history and music fans
I got my copy from, a volume released as "WITHDRAWN/Worn, Soiled, 'Obsolete' (Imagine that!)" from the Fresno County Library system. Thanks, guys.
Believe me, I know the story - I don't have Beatles books, I have Beatles shelves - but every telling adds a little detail and changes the focus. This is the version that makes John the bad guy in Stuart Sutcliffe's death, as told by Pauline (about and by her mother's "as told by").
Already into Chapter 10, "Hold On"; they're the Beatles, t
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent book on the early life of John Lennon. You really got a feel for how he was raised, and lived as a youngster. It started to get shakey for me around the time of "Rubber Soul". From this point on, the author felt the need to give his interpretation of Lennon's lyrics, and reviewed his work. I'm always more interested in facts than the authors opinion of his subjects work. Overall, it was an enjoyable read tho. John Lennon is a great subject.
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NPR CRITIC, AUTHOR, PIANIST, and SPEAKER TIM RILEY reviews pop and classical music for NPR's HERE AND NOW, and has written for the HUFFINGTON POST, THE WASHINGTON POST, SLATE.COM and SALON.COM. He was trained as a classical pianist at Oberlin and Eastman, and remains among the few critics who writes about both "high" and "low" culture and their overlapping concerns.

Brown University sponsored Rile

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